Speculative Poetry

All posts tagged Speculative Poetry

I have aspirations to write more blog posts – regular content, platform, and all that.  There are a lot of things going on right now that could use the added energy: Riddled with Arrows recently launched its second issue.  I’ve got new stories and poems floating around in the world or forthcoming.  Voting for the 2017 SFPA Rhysling Award just wrapped up (with two of my poems in the running),  the Dwarf Stars voting is now open (also with one of mine), as are the Elgins, plus we have a Contest and a bag of holding full of administrative happenings, well, happening.  In short, I done been busy.

But behind the scenes, life takes precedence.  We just wrapped up one of the longest and most difficult chapters of our family story, hopefully never to be revisited.  I’m still recovering, physically and spiritually, but mostly doing okay.  I’ve been enjoying a period of creative abundance–not just the desperate, defiant manic phase that I’m used to, but a purposeful, measured and meaningful stretch of good, old-fashioned work.  I’m hoping to keep up momentum over the summer to re-stock my story and poetry stables for submission, then maybe step into something bigger-picture come the fall, once both kids are safely ensconced in school (and not climbing on Mom’s head, literally, as she tries to write).

In the meantime, I’m prepping for a somewhat-surprise trip to northern California to visit my grandmother, who is turning ninety-six-years-young this Saturday.  I haven’t seen her in person in three or four years (or my hip uncle Bruce in more than I can remember), and I’ve never been to the West Coast before.  Although the hyper-focused, rarely leaves the house without her children mom in me is freaking out a little at the thought of switching planes in a strange city all by myself, the rest of me–the part that USED to have a life, and love adventure–is starting to get psyched.  I’m looking forward to a few days in new environs to work, write, and think without little voices overriding everything.  Plus, I get to spend a few more days (and, let’s be honest, the last ever) with a very special lady–the only grandmother I’ve ever known.


So that’s why I’m not publishing as much content as I’d like–I know, excuses, excuses.  This is just to say, hi, I love you, hope you’re having a nice summer! And also, stay tuned.  More words to come.  Eventually.

“Ghosts, edited by Shannon Connor Winward, is a moving and wide-ranging collection of spectral verses that largely succeed in channeling the ghostly in singularly imaginative and even untrodden ways… The poems included in “Ghosts”have an admirable potency and synergy when read together… That these poems skirt the Scylla and Charybdis of over-reliance on genre tropes is their greatest strength.”

Many thanks to Michael J. Abolafia for his fabulous review (Spectral Realms 6) of the October 2016 issue of Eye to the Telescope—the “Ghosts” issue—which I guest-edited for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.  Abolafia gives special shout-outs to poets L.W. Salinas, Holly Walrath, Suzan Pickford, Daniel R. Jones, Joe Nazare, Christina Sng, Andrea Bylthe, Jessica Horowitz, Lauren McBride, Ann K. Schwader, John W. Sexton, Rebecca Buchanan, Jane Yolen, James Edward O’Brien & Alex Harper.

Science Fiction Poetry Association

“What Is Speculative Poetry” Survey

Executive Committee Report

January 25, 2017


The Science Fiction Poetry Association maintains two forums (a yahoo list-serv and a FB group page) where members of the SFPA and the broader community discuss topics relevant to the speculative poetry field.  The SFPA awards, projects, and publications are items of perennial interest; we often hear suggestions for changes to our rules and procedures, and debate their relative merits.

One ongoing debate within the forums (and indeed, in the literary world) is the exact definition of speculative.  In its constitution, the SFPA defines itself as an organization dedicated “the genres of science fiction, science, fantasy, horror, speculative, and all other areas of poetry and related thematic interest which current practitioners and readers commonly accept as inclusive within the broadest reasonable limits of the term.”  Nevertheless, members of our community consistently disagree on what constitutes “the broadest reasonable limits”.

While this may seem like a philosophical or semantic question, it’s also a practical one.  Each year the SFPA publishes two award anthologies (the Rhysling Award and the Dwarf Stars) of speculative poetry, bestows the Elgin Award for chapbook and book-length speculative poetry manuscripts, and hosts a speculative poetry contest with cash prizes, with the express purpose of highlighting the very best speculative poetry being written today. The need for a definition of speculative poetry as it pertains to eligibility for these awards, as well as our quarterly publications—namely Star*Line (the official SFPA newsletter) and Eye to the Telescope (the SFPA online magazine)—is a concern frequently raised by SFPA members, and has at times left the community vulnerable to controversy.

In response to these concerns, the SFPA officers published an informal online survey entitled “What Is Speculative Poetry” in November 2016. The main purpose of this survey was to determine whether there is an overall consensus among the membership regarding what genres or sub-genres of poetry belong under the heading “speculative”, assuming no other genre elements are present.  Little to no definitions of each suggested genre were provided, by design; the intention was to leave it up to survey participants to decide, based on their own understandings, which categories should be included.

As of January 25th, 2017, 89 people participated in this survey.  A detailed report of the results appears below, along with select comments from participants.

 *Correction: “SFF Tropes used only as metaphor appears twice.  This is an error.  The second appearance (at 37%) should read “Science used only as metaphor”.  See below for results table.

Survey Results

As indicated in the graph and table below, the results of the “What Is Speculative Poetry” survey represent a wide spectrum of opinion regarding what counts as “speculative”.  On the upper end of consensus, we find categories that are understood across the literary landscape as falling within the speculative umbrella, including Science Fiction, Space science & exploration, Fantasy, Magic, Supernatural Horror, Myth and Folklore, Fairy Tales, Alternative History, SF&F pop culture, Superheroes, Surrealism, Slipstream, Fabulism, and Weird and “What If”.

Genres that fell more towards the middle of the spectrum—that is, those receiving support by 40-65%  of responders, included Science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc), Domestic Fabulism, Dinosaurs, “Interstitial” works, biographies of speculative poets, and poems in which traditional SF&F tropes as literary device (analogy, simile).

On the lower end of the spectrum—those genres that are most controversial, according to responders—we find Bizzaro, SF&F tropes as metaphor (bit of inconsistency there), biographies of scientists and (non-speculative) poets, Mundane Horror, Nature, Religion, Gender, Real history, Cowboy & Western, and Romance.


# of Votes % of Votes

Science fiction

88 99%
Fantasy 86 97%
Horror with supernatural elements 80 90%
Mythological 80 90%
Alternate history 80 90%
Weird poetry (ala Lovecraft) 79 89%
Magical realism 79 89%
Fairy Tales 77 87%
Urban fantasy 76 85%
Cosmic horror 73 82%
Riffs on pop SFFH culture 72 81%
Folklore 70 79%
Astrology, magic, occult 64 72%
Space (astronomy, real-world space exploration) 63 71%
Fabulism 63 71%
surrealism 62 70%
slipstream 62 70%
superheroes 62 70%
“What if” poetry 61 69%
science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc) 56 63%
SFF tropes used only as metaphor 50 56%
Domestic fabulism 47 53%
Interstitial 44 49%
Dinosaurs 42 47%
SFF tropes used only as analogy 41 46%
SFF tropes used only as simile 41 46%
Speculative poets (biographical) 40 45%
Bizzaro 33 37%
Science used only as metaphor 33 37%
Scientists (biographical) 28 31%
Mundane (real-world) horror 21 24%
Nature 17 19%
Current religions 9 10%
Cowboy & Western 5 6%
Real-world human history 5 6%
Poets (biographical) 5 6%
Gender topics 5 6%
Romance 2 2%


Additionally, participants were given an opportunity to suggest categories overlooked by this survey.  Responses were as varied one might expect.  Selected responses include “oniric or dream content”, “time travel”, “post-apocalyptic”, “steampunk”, “experimental”, “robots”,  “mysticism”, “fanfic poetry”, and what is, to many, the ultimate yardstick—”I know it when I see it.”

So Now What?

As mentioned above, the purpose of the “What Is Speculative Poetry” survey was to determine informally whether there is an overall consensus among the membership regarding what genres or sub-genres of poetry belong under the heading “speculative”.

Based on the results, the answer to that question is clear as mud–yes, there is consensus, and no, there really isn’t.  Are we surprised? Not really!

Nevertheless, it is the consensus of the SFPA executive committee that this survey was, at least, an interesting experiment.  We feel that you, our members and colleagues, will also find it interesting, and that, in regards to eligibility for our awards and publications, this survey can also be a useful tool to future SFPA editors and award Chairs, who are tasked with answering the practical question, “What is speculative poetry?

As of the writing of this summary, the SFPA’s implicit policy is that the determination of eligibility of poems (and poetry collections) as speculative is subject to the discretion of our appointed editors and chairs, with oversight by the SFPA executive committee.  This policy may change, and/or be made more explicit in our official guidelines, pursuant to ongoing (and future) review.  As ever, we encourage discussion and feedback on this and other topics of interest to our community.  In the meantime, we want to express our sincere thanks to everyone who participated in this survey—as well as the members of our discussion forums—for your investment in the SFPA and the speculative poetry community.

In Case You’re Just Tuning In

Earlier this week a controversy developed over poems that were nominated by members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association for the 2017 Rhysling Award anthology, posted to the SFPA’s website, and then later removed because they’d been deemed ineligible by the Rhysling Chair on the grounds that they were not sufficiently speculative to qualify.  The removal of a poem by Tlotlo Tsamaase, “I Will Be Your Grave”, which first appeared in Strange Horizons, was met with particular dismay, with concerns that the exclusion of the poem demonstrates, at best, cultural insensitivity on the part of the Rhysling Chair and executive committee.

After further review, two of the disqualified poems, including “I Will Be Your Grave”, have since be reinstated (though it appears not to have made it back to the website at the time of this writing).  This was done not only as a gesture of good faith in answer to the grave concerns of the speculative poetry community, but also because the decision to disqualify the poems had not been unanimous in the first place.  Even among so small a group (six volunteers), the definition of “speculative” is highly variable—and problematic.

SFPA President Bryan Thao Worra has made a public statement regarding this issue which touches on the overarching goals of the organization; goals that include “inclusion, imagination, innovation, and community”, as well as active dialog among disparate points of view, even on sensitive and uncomfortable matters.  I encourage anyone following this issue to read it, if you haven’t already.

As an officer of the SFPA, I have held back on commenting on the matter – even as online discussions became heated, and colleagues and friends on all sides suffered personal attacks—because to me, the heart of the problem stems from a breakdown in communication, particularly among the SFPA officers.  In addition to the very serious and distressing political situation here in the states (and globally!), many of us are also facing personal hardships which make it challenging to conduct business in real time at the best of times, let alone when controversy hits with the lightning speed of social media.  It has taken some effort for all of us, in completely different time zones, to connect, review our notes, reiterate our positions, and reach a meaningful consensus.

Now that the matter is, hopefully, behind us, I would first like to apologize to anyone who has felt aggrieved by these events.  I am confident that was not the intent of the Chair or the officers, even if that was the result.   I personally feel that there was much we, as an executive body, could have done earlier to prevent this, for reasons I will touch on in a moment.  My heart is heavy over the fallout from this situation, but I am hoping we can learn from it and use its momentum to improve our policies and process in the future.

Secondly, I’d like to share my thoughts, as both a writer and fan of speculative poetry as well as an SFPA officer with firsthand knowledge of the events that transpired.  I believe that, although it may be at times uncomfortable, this is one of those difficult conversations that needs to be had.


One of the first issues to appear on my radar as an elected officer of the SFPA was the fact that, even within an organization dedicated to speculative poetry, not everyone agrees on what “speculative” means.  While this may seem like a philosophical or semantic question, it’s also a practical one.  The SFPA exists to foster community among people who read and write speculative poetry.  Each year the SFPA publishes two award anthologies (the Rhysling and the Dwarf Stars) of speculative poetry, bestows the Elgin Award for chapbook and book-length speculative poetry manuscripts, and hosts a speculative poetry contest with cash prizes, with the express purpose of highlighting the very best speculative poetry being written today.  Without a clear, working consensus of what speculative poetry is, what’s the fucking point?

The problem (as our members and colleagues have consistently and eloquently pointed out in many impassioned and drawn-out debates)is that a universally accepted definition of “speculative” is the stuff of fantasy (pun intended).  If you ask ten poets to define the genre you will get eleventy-seven conflicting answers.  Each writer and reader brings to the page an understanding informed by culture, marketing trends, historical framing, personal preference and bias… I don’t believe that straight science poetry belongs in science fiction, for example, but there are plenty of people who vehemently disagree.  And that’s okay.  Because what happens when we start trying to draw lines in the moon dust to define what belongs and what doesn’t? We end up with a divided community which, in the end, defeats the fucking point. 

So while I have my own personal opinions about what constitutes “speculative”, I have taken to heart the wisdom of members who, when asked the question, caution the community to err on the side of inclusion.  If it means that a few poems squeak by that are (arguably) less representative of the field than others, so be it. The upshot of fuzzy boundaries is that it allows for diversity, and diversity is a good thing.  Diversity freshens the poetic gene pool.  It educates, opens new doors of possibility, broadens horizons and raises new speculation and isn’t that the fucking point?

And yet.  As an officer of the SFPA, it is my responsibility to help recruit, vet, and assist those people we appoint as Editors and Chairs of our organization’s endeavors.  This year’s Rhysling Chair, David Kopaska-Merkel, is a notable member of the SFPA and the wider speculative poetry community – a person with a breadth of experience and demonstrated ability.  We were thrilled to have him take the helm for this project, and to vest him with the responsibilities as well as the discretion required for the role.

I am deeply troubled by the accusations on social media that David acted irresponsibly in deeming certain poems ineligible, or that his actions were done with malice, with the intent of purposely excluding some voices.  As Rhysling Chair, it is David’s job to ensure that all nominated poems meet the criteria for eligibility, which by extension includes determining whether the poems count as speculative, even though there is not – as yet – any clear policy to guide him in this.  David’s solution was to bring  each poem that he found questionable to the attention of the executive committee, seeking our input, before making his final determination.  His was a measured, conscientious approach.  And while I did not personally agree with each decision that he made, I was willing to support them.

Members of the SFPA and in the greater community have questioned the right of one person to decide what counts as speculative – and given that as a community we’ve yet to land on a universal definition, it’s a valid question.  It has been argued that the fact the nominated poem first appeared in one of the most celebrated speculative markets in the field should automatically qualify the poem as speculative, which is also an excellent point—I even suggested as much myself at one point during one of the many discussions in our list-serv, saying that any poem published in a speculative journal had already been vetted by an editor and should get an automatic pass.

But on the other hand, a point that I haven’t seen vocalized is the fact that magazine editors, too, exercise personal discretion.  They make decisions based on the same personally or culturally defined and often arbitrary standards and preferences and biases that we, as readers, exercise—and they have the right to do so, because of the task that has been entrusted to them.  Similarly, the Rhysling Chair is tasked with interpreting the organization’s guidelines to the best of his or her ability, which also implies a degree of individual, even arbitrary discretion—and that is what happened.  Without any clear guidance in the form of official policy, and with only the less-than-unanimous opinions of the executive committee (a microcosm of the larger spec community), he made a judgment call.

Personally, I am glad that “I Will Be Your Grave” was reinstated.  I believe that surrealism has a place in the speculative genre, and that poems like this are doing interesting things with language and imagery and genre tropes that should be recognized.  But as an officer, I believe the takeaway from this issue has less to do with righting a perceived injustice, and more to do with improving the Rhysling process.

I think, as a community, we need to look at the central issue –how do we define speculative, and, more importantly, who/how do we empower to apply that definition when it comes to featuring poems in our annual award programs—including our anthologies, which we hold up to the world as the best representatives of what speculative poetry is?

To accomplish this, we need to move away from the merry-go-round of debate (and name-calling) that is endemic in our social media and forums.  We need to work together to define clear and equitable guidelines for both the nomination process and the vetting system—assuming a vetting system for “speculative” should even exist.

Rather than writing the SFPA off as an exclusive or broken community, which I see happening (and which breaks my heart) I encourage anyone who is invested in speculative poetry and the issues raised herein to participate in making us better.


For one thing, membership equals a vote.  We need membership dollars to exist and we need member votes to make policy.  Information about membership rates and benefits can be found here.

Secondly, if you have not already, please visit the WHAT IS SPECULATIVE  survey and share your opinions with us.  We were planning to close the poll soon, but given the events of the last week I think it behooves us to leave it open a bit longer.  This is an informal poll, not a binding ballot, but it may help provide a measure of member consensus on this very challenging topic that guide us—or at the very least, a way to frame the question.

Third, help us improve the process.

As Secretary, it has been a priority of mine to codify the various SFPA volunteer positions, including that of the award/contest Chairs and publication editors, so that people coming into these roles have a clear understanding of what is expected of them without the added burden of having to figure out how to do everything by scratch each time.  We now have official contracts that outline the duties and timelines for each position, but clearly there are still things we need to address, such as how/when to post nominated poems, how/whether to vet nominating poems for genre eligibility and how/when to handle poems that have been disqualified.   These are all part of a conversation that has been ongoing among the officers, but needs to be taken up with renewed urgency, out of respect for the frustration and hurt that was caused by our failure to provide clearer policies in time.

In the coming weeks, I would like to see these issues addressed as clearly-worded proposals to be approved by the membership and adopted as policy, to be cited in our official documents and posted guidelines.  Hopefully, we can reach a consensus and have these policies in place in advance not just of next year’s Rhyslings, but also our other upcoming 2017 projects, such as the Dwarf Stars, where the question of “What is speculative” is also relevant.

To that aim, I invite members of the SFPA and other interested parties to contact me with your thoughts on the matter.  Please note, I am NOT interested in further finger-pointing or recriminations.  What I am interested in are your suggestions for policy reform.

I am committed to leaving this organization better than I found it.  If you would like to help me accomplish that, please feel free to reach out.  I can be reached through Facebook or via email: ladytairngire @ yahoo dot com

In Closing

I realize that, to some, this incident has raised serious concerns.  I hope that in this long rambling I’ve made it clear that these concerns are not falling on deaf ears, and that many of us who are working within the SFPA are striving for an inclusive community of poets who will continue to challenge and broaden and enrich the speculative genre(s).  If we falter (and we will) I hope that passionate people will continue to call us on it.  In particular, I want to thank those who have done so with open minds and measured words, as this, I believe, is the surest way to create positive change.


Shannon Connor Winward

SFPA Secretary

In recent posts* I have been revisiting poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th, 2016.

In this last installment, we explore the “unmeasured” – the impossible up-not-down, the then that is too far to reach but close enough to feel, the ending that is not so much a beginning but a continuation.

*In case you missed any (or should you like to revisit them), links to the previous six posts in this series are located at the end of this feature.


undying by John C. Mannone

|| laugh some
more || slip past the door
|| put your helmet & gear
in the corner of your
shanty and unbreak your
wife’s heart ||

Any exploration of a theme like “ghosts” that does not also deal with grief would be an exercise in frivolity.  That is why in this issue of Eye to the Telescope you will find poems of lost love and sorrow interspersed with the quirky and uncanny and tales of high ghostly adventure.  Death –that most central and inevitable drama of human existence–deserves the poet’s attention.

Of all the poems that I read for this issue, none were so exquisitely sad as  John C. Mannone’s “undying”.  I do not use this phrase lightly–this poem is not maudlin, it is not gothic in its grief.  Rather, Mannone gives us in unadorned language a series of mundane images–men doing everyday things like joking in an elevator, kissing their wives, drinking coffee.  The power of the poem is in its form: the actions play out backwards, calling quiet attention to the enormity of their sadness through their finality–the last sip, the last kiss, the last ride down into the coalmine.

The strength of “undying” is also in its impossibility: the men do not know they are doing these things for the last time.  We never know.  The poem asks the dead to reverse death, which of course they can’t, so the imperatives–unchoke, unkill, unbreak, untouch her, repeated over and over, are absolutely hopeless and awful, and wonderful in their ability to articulate utter loss.

Note, too, the appearance of the poem (a long, vertical column, like an elevator shaft) and the structural || positioned throughout, wherever the narration pauses for breath.  Clever, clever.

John C. Mannone has over 550 works published in venues such as Gyroscope Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Inscape Literary Journal, Windhover, 2016 Texas Poetry Calendar, Baltimore Review, Pedestal, Pirene’s Fountain, Event Horizon Magazine and Syzygy Journal. He’s been awarded a 2016 Weymouth writing residency and has two literary poetry collections, including one on disability, Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, Dec 2015) featured at the 28th Southern Festival of Books. He edits poetry for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex, and he’s a college professor of physics in east Tennessee. Visit jcmannone.wordpress.com


Séance at Black Horse Pike

by James Edward O’Brien

Even deaf, the pain’s just as prickly, the distance too long to mend with the legs we’ve been given, or the legs taken from us.
There hasn’t been a boot sole cobbled to suit a journey like this…

“Séance at Black Horse Pike” reads like an epigraph to “undying”, and, really, to all the poems in this collection.  It has the thumps and flickers of a séance but it is really a reflection on death, and life– the whole painful business.  I feel like Black Horse Pike could be anywhere we sense history, the comings and goings (always goings) of lives, “then” and “now” separated by a notion of time thin as a well-worn carpet, yet set apart by an impossible, impassible distance.  Perhaps what we think of as ghosts are just those who, like us, have been struck by their own mortality there–perhaps the cold drafts and distant footfalls are just echoes of our existential dread.

I find the second-to-last stanza quite interesting: the only thing uplifting, life-affirming in the whole poem, the “overripe plumb” (our youthful expectations? the long-gone fruit of Eden?) appears out of nowhere and just hangs there, mocking, out of reach.  How ghastly! But how gorgeous.

A bit of trivia: James Edward O’Brien wrote “Séance at Black Horse Pike” in traditional stanzas; it was a mysterious technical glitch that caused his submission to appear to me as a prose poem.  We only discovered the mishap in the wee hours before publication; I liked it so much this way, I convinced him to keep it.  Special props to Jim for obliging me.  What do you think-how would the poem read, if framed differently?

James Edward O’Brien lives in Far Rockaway, NY, with his wife and dogs. His poetry has appeared in Nerve Cowboy, Black Bear Review, WordWrights, and Bathtub Gin. His speculative fiction appears in Cyclopean, 87 Bedford, and Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to The Misfits. Jim’s chapbook, Broke-down Shotgun Blues, was awarded first place in Nerve Cowboy’s 2002 Chapbook Contest.


But after by Alex Harper

and though
the shadow of the end
lengthens as the day grows old
then turns to dust
it will restart at dawn—
remember this

My choice to place Alex Harper’s “But After” at the end of this issue was largely self-indulgent: not only does it give us a much needed upswing after the dark turnings of the previous poems, it also encapsulates my own hope and faith for the afterlife.

In my submission call, I quoted these lines from Manuel Acuña‘s “Before a Corpse”: Existence is a circle, and we err/when we assign to it for measurement/the limits of the cradle and the grave.”  “But After” was the answer to that poem I was hoping for.  In many of the works we’ve seen, death is not an ending, but Harper’s is the only one in which death is just a temporary reprieve from the real business of living.

To me, “But After” takes a stab at that most essential of life’s questions: why.  Why do we do this? Why do die? Why do we live? Because

there are things to do
you left undone and seas to watch
you’ve never seen, words
you’ve never spoken and there is
always hope

Existence is a circle, and, in a way, Eye to the Telescope #22 ends where it started; the ghost given form in the body, given meaning in the poem, here to be lived, read, written, over and over again.

Alex Harper has been published in Liminality, Mirror Dance, Not One of Us, Kaleidotrope, and Cordite Poetry Review, among others. He lives in England and can be found online at palexharperwriting.wordpress.com and on Twitter as @harpertext.


Want to have another go? Revisit the poems from Eye to the Telescope #22, “The Ghosts Issue” here:

Part 1: Intro – featuring poems by y L.W. Salinas, Holly Walrath and Akua Lezli Hope

Part 2: From Archetype to Personal – featuring poems by Robin Husen, Dawn Cunningham, Suzan Pickford and Cathleen Allyn Conway.

Part 3: Planes, Trains, and Gooseberry Jam – featuring poems by F.J. Bergmann, Daniel R. Jones, Joe Nazare and Oliver Smith

Part 4: Ghosts Without, Ghosts Within – featuring poems by Christina Sng, Andrea Blythe, Aisha Tayo Ijadunola and Lev Mirov.

Part 5: Space Ghosts – featuring poems by Jessica J. Horowitz, Charles Christian, Lauren McBride, Ann K. Schwader and Deborah L. Davitt.

Part 6: Into the Wild – featuring poems by Wendy Rathbone, John W. Sexton, Rebecca Buchanan and Jane Yolen

Part 7: The Unmeasured – featuring poems by John C. Mannone, James Edward O’Brien and Alex Harper

In recent posts I have been revisiting poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th.

Today we continue the series with four ghost poems that subvert expectations, from humanity’s place in the universe and Nature, to the nature of grief.




Three Worlds by Wendy Rathbone

the first
a world of red sky
and lightning and jagged doorways
became a mirror in which
I crumbled

Any meaningful contemplation of ghosts must lead us eventually to life’s fundamental questions: not just “where do we go when we die” but “where do we come from”,  “what are we made of”, and “why are we here?”

Some of my favorite poems among those submitted to the “Ghosts” issue are those that embrace these essential mysteries.  Wendy Rathbone’s “Three Worlds” is one fantastic example.  Appearing at the cusp of our extraterrestrial  ghost poems, “Three Worlds” takes us not just to new star systems but other planes of existence entirely; realms of the spirit, or soul.  Three, to be exact– each uniquely horrible and wonderful.

Though they read like pure imagination, we know these three worlds are somehow threaded to the life and death questions because of the poem’s first line (“Once when I did not exist/three worlds called to me”) and the closing (“I had to… give up the years/and make my eyes husks/and dangle my skeleton like a bell over the adrift dimensions/to meet my ghost”.

The lines imply a sacrifice, but they also suggest that the nature of our existence is a choice.  It’s empowering, and it begs the question–if we could be anywhere, why are we here, in this plane where we are nursed on “leaves and stars”?

I love the possibilities engendered by this poem: it reminds me of that meme buzzing around the internet: you are a ghost driving a meat-coated skeleton made from stardust — what are you afraid of?

Wendy Rathbone has had over 500 poems published in places like Asimov’s, Apex, Pedestal, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Dreams and Nightmares, HWA Showcase and more. Her most recent collection, Turn Left at November, is nominated for an Elgin. She also writes and publishes novels and short stories. You can find her on Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest, Tumblr, and her blog: wendyrathbone.blogspot.com/




Bright Matter by John W. Sexton

They so desperately wanted to die.
In the morning dull smears dotted the pane.
But the ghost moths covered her: a robe of light.
More alive dead than when they were alive.

Rathbone’s “Three Worlds” and John W. Sexton’s “Bright Matter” are both delightfully surreal.  They also share an interest in the ghostly symbolism of moths–strange little beings that flutter, spectral and soft, in the dark.  I could not resist positioning them back to back.

Yet where Rathbone’s moths are poetic and passing, “Bright Matter” is devoted to the creatures–a wholly unexpected and fascinating choice in which the human of the narrative (poor Sally) is really just an afterthought, a sad little phenom who  for some reason can sense the presence of moth souls: thousands and thousands of them, all around.

Even more wonderfully bizarre is the poem’s revelation that moths are suicidal for a reason — “Destined to burn they are born already burned,” yearning for the greatest porch light of all. Sally cannot understand it, but the poet lets us in on the secret: their transitory existence contributes bit by infinitesimal silvery bit to a mysterious cosmic metabolic process, like an hourglass counting off centuries, or the galaxy slowly shifting its weight.  When the sun finally reaches critical moth mass, what then?

John W. Sexton lives in the Republic of Ireland and is a Muse pagan. His fifth poetry collection, The Offspring of the Moon, has just been published by Salmon Poetry. His sixth collection, Futures Pass, is also forthcoming in 2017 from the same publisher. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His speculative poems are widely published and some have appeared in Apex, The Edinburgh Review, The Irish Times, Liminality, Mithila Review, Mirror Dance, The Pedestal Magazine, Silver Blade and Strange Horizons.


a stranger in the cemetery whispered to me by Rebecca Buchanan

it is said by those
who claim to know the
truth of such things that
only two-legged
animals possess

While Sexton’s insect specters were an unprecedented choice, animal ghosts were surprisingly popular among the poems submitted to this issue of Eye to the Telescope.  That is to say, pet ghosts were popular–many spirit cats padded their way across my laptop, along with a few faithful dead dogs (which begs the question – is it easier to imagine cat ghosts? or are speculative poets more likely to be cat people? hmm.)

Rebecca Buchanan’s “a stranger in the cemetery whispered to me” stood out for its focus on wild animals — denizens of nature haunting the woods and “edges of ev’ry/road”,  echoing the cycle of seasons, of life, even in spirit form.  More than this, though, Buchanan’s poem completely subverts our arrogant human assumption that we’re the only species that has ghosts; indeed, it dares to suggest that we’re the only species that doesn’t. 

I like the mystery and subtle mockery of this poem–while the animal spirits are “bright-eyed” and animate, the eponymous “stranger” and “me” are both nondescript, abstracts that don’t even warrant capital letters.  The “cemetery”, too, is a mere sketch of a setting –just a yard of stones, perhaps, demarking nothing of importance.

Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. She has been previously published, or has work forthcoming, in Bards and Sages Quarterly, Faerie Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Nebula Rift, New Realm, and other venues.


Embracing the Bear by Jane Yolen

When he stands on his hind legs,
knee-deep in bracken, to embrace me,
he is so like a man, he breaks the spell.
(“Embracing the Bear.” Copyright © 2016 by Jane Yolen.)

Buchanan’s nod to Nature  (and humanity’s less-than-consequential place in it) sequed nicely with another poem that juxtaposes death, wilderness, and human impulse.

By far the most common ghost poems I received were “lost love” poems–pets, parents, and children, to be sure, but something about romantic love seems to wed particularly well with the notion of ghostly return.

Because my goal with this issue was to seek out the unusual, I was drawn to Jane Yolen’s “Embracing the Bear”, in which loss is not romanticized– just the opposite.   The poem evokes an almost aversive response to the bear that the narrator imagines, for a moment, is a returned husband.   The creature reeks of piss and sweat, semen… decay–yet it is this miasma that speaks to the narrator’s grief– a reaction akin to a widow smelling old, unwashed shirts, perhaps, but far more visceral and complicated.

What I found particularly interesting is that the poem can be read a number of ways: is the husband truly dead, or might he just as well be? Does the narrator “choose the bear” out of disappointment that the “ghosting” was just illusion –is the pain of eight years’ separation, brought so unexpectedly to the surface by this surprise encounter,  just too much bear?  Or is death in the animal’s embrace preferable to even one more day with a husband who is sickly, depressed, “married to death” or otherwise alive but no longer the man he used to be?

Jane Yolen, often called “The Hans Christian Andersen of America” is a much-published poet whose poems appear regularly in magazines, journals, anthologies, and in her own collections of poems, both for adults and children. She is a Grand Master of SFPA (Science Fiction/Fantasy Poetry Association.) She writes a poem a day that goes out to almost 750 readers. To subscribe: eepurl.com/bs28ab

In recent posts I have been revisiting poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th.

Today we continue the series with five exemplary science fiction poems that explore the far-out possibilities of ghosts in space.


Romance by Jessica J. Horowitz

… kiss me under the light
of long-dead stars.

Following the heavy fare of the previous poems,  Jessica Horowitz cleanses the palate with her sparklingly light short form, “Romance”.  The flirtatious nod to both fantasy and science in this Dwarf Star darling quickly captured my heart.

Our Telescope now fixed skyward, “Romance” also draws us into the uncharted realms of space, and the ghostly possibilities therein, and beyond.

Jessica Jo Horowitz is Korean-born, currently living in New England where she studies historical sword work and Asian mythology. Previous poems have appeared in ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade and Star*Line. Find her on Twitter @TransientJ.



Little Lost Cosmonaut by Charles Christian

Standing by her capsule’s window
from time to time she sees the flares
of rocket-ships soaring up from Earth
Maybe tomorrow rescue will come?

Our Eye to the Telescope exploration of space-ly ghosts starts relatively close to home with Charles Christian’s love song to Valentinka, a (theoretical?) “Little Lost Cosmonaut” whose corpse was left in perpetual orbit after a botched space mission.  Decades later, the ghost of Valentinka still watches and waits, dreaming of what was–and, maybe, what could be?

Though macabre in concept, and infinitely lonely, “Little Lost Cosmonaut” yet has a charming, life-affirming musicality to it — I was taken with waltzing lines like “the taste of vodka, the smell of borscht/the sound of the balalaika/And walking hand-in-hand in Gorky Park.”

Christian offers the image of Valentinka sealed with her capsule “Like a Matryoshka nest of dolls,” but one could as easily imagine her as a ballerina inside a music box, just waiting for someone to lift the lid and let her dance.

Charles Christian is an English journalist, author, and occasional poet who writes about tech, geek stuff, folklore, pop culture and the just plain weird. He is the publisher of the Grievous Angel zine and editor of the 2016 Rhysling Anthology—and an English newspaper recently commissioned him to go on a werewolf hunt. He found nothing but does now have to shave more frequently when there is a full moon.


in the starship junkyard by Lauren McBride

in the starship junkyard
at night
viewscreens flicker on—

Bookending “Little Lost Cosmonaut” is yet another Dwarf Star potential, ” in the starship junkyard…” by Lauren McBride.  While it’s a challenge to feature this one without reprinting the whole precious thing, I urge you to give it a read in context.  Let the image sit with you a bit, especially this side of Valentinka’s lonely echo.  Feel us drift far from our familiar arcs, out into space and time to distant tomorrows, where humankind expands ever outward, and our loyal machines dream…

Lauren McBride finds inspiration in faith, nature, science and membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Nominated for the SFPA’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards, her work has appeared in numerous speculative, nature, and children’s publications including Dreams & Nightmares, Silver Blade, and Grievous Angel. She shares a love of laughter and the ocean with her husband and two grown children.


New World Haunting by Ann K. Schwader

Against a sun
that spawns no shadows, drifting as we must
across this landscape loaded like a gun
no longer fit to kill us, we aspire
despite ourselves.

With Ann K. Schwader’s “New World Haunting”, our journey takes us out beyond all known borders into utterly alien ghostly realms.  Building on the mechanical echoes of space capsules and starships in the previous poems, “New World” ousts us from sleep pods-turned-coffins into uncharted worlds, where we find ourselves short of bodies but no less eager to explore.

I love the forward motion of this poem, the way one line strains to become the next, mirroring the underlying theme of humanity’s ambition and drive.  I love the concept of space travelers fueled by such passion that even death cannot halt their momentum.

Ann K. Schwader’s most recent poetry collection, Dark Energies, appeared in 2015 from P’rea Press. It recently placed third in this year’s Elgin Awards for full-length collection. Ann is a two-time Bram Stoker Award Finalist, and has received Rhysling Awards for both short and long form work. She was the Poet Laureate for NecronomiCon Providence in 2015. A Wyoming native, she now lives and writes in suburban Colorado. Find out more at home.earthlink.net/~schwader


Possession by Deborah L. Davitt

We were meant to wake
when received by antennas,
downloaded into
undying mechanoid forms,
a fresh start on distant worlds.

With a thrust similar to “New World Haunting”, Deborah L. Davitt’s “Possession” also braves new alien realms.  However, Davitt does this darkly, deftly weaving science fiction and psychological horror.

Though “Possession” (aptly named) revisits the possession trope, this poem eschews cliché by reimagining possession as technology gone wrong.  Against a backdrop of planetary apocalypse, the possessor here is a human? maybe?–ghost? or program? sustained for countless years before being accidentally downloaded into an alien creature.

Or… OR, perhaps the alien is a human, and the “ghost” is the alien…

With the final stanzas, Davitt weaves together two points-of-view: the hapless space “ghost” and the rightful owner of the body it now inhabits.  Drawing on even more classic genre tropes, “Possession” leaves open the possibility that perhaps the whole thing is just a story, a psychosis dreamt up in some demented being’s (person’s?) head.

However you read it, “Possession” aced the challenge of taking ghost stories in new and unexpected directions.  Genre poetry at its finest.

Deborah L. Davitt grew up in Reno, Nevada, took her BA in English Lit at UNR, and earned her MA in English from Penn State. Since then, she has taught composition, rhetoric, and technical writing, and has worked as a technical writer in industries including nuclear submarines, NASA, and computer manufacturing. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. She’s been fortunate to have her poetry  published in Star*Line, Blue Monday Review’s Storytime Challenge, Dreams & Nightmares, Silver Blade, Poetry Quarterly, and other venues. A short story of hers, “The Cenotaph,” appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show in Sept. 2016. She’s best known for her alternate-history/fantasy books, the Saga of Edda-Earth. You can find more of her work through her website: edda-earth.com

In recent posts I have been revisiting poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th.

Today we continue the series with four poems exploring a range of spectral manifestations, from ghastly ghostly weather to spirits that consume us from within.


Ghost Month by Christina Sng

August rain falls lightly
On the summer-scorched soil.
The ghost month is taking its toll,
With spirits about a thousandfold.

Christina Sng’s skill with short form poetry shimmers forth in “Ghost Month”.  Like traditional haiku, the poem reflects upon the natural world, obliquely evoking  emotion or insight.  Yet “Ghost Month” slips easily between the natural and the supernatural — a lovely vein of magical realism which accepts spirits as part of the everyday landscape — at least for the duration of “the ghost month“.

I was particularly taken with the atmospheric quality of these five concise couplets, with their gentle rhymes.  Like spectral offerings, the effect is haunting and enduringly satisfying.

Christina Sng is a poet, writer, and artist. Her work has received nominations in the Dwarf Stars and Rhysling Awards as well as Honorable Mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She is the author of several chapbooks, most recently, Dark Dreams (Smashwords, 2011) and A Constellation of Songs (Origami Poems Project, 2016). Her first two full-length books, Astropoetry (Alban Lake Publishing, 2016) and A Collection of Nightmares (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2016) are slated for winter this year. Visit her online at christinasng.com.



Summer Hauntings by Andrea Blythe

Even the ghosts
collapse over clotheslines and tree branches, dripping
like clocks in a Dalí painting, all
their footsteps and whisperings, cupboard slamming and shadowing
stilled by the oppression of the hot night…

Of course, “Ghost Month” dovetails perfectly with Andrea Blythe’s “Summer Hauntings”.  Like “Ghost Month”, Blythe’s poem describes the overlap of the ghostly with the everyday as if it were a natural phenomenon, like a heat wave.

“Summer Hauntings”, too, is delightfully atmospheric; the reader comes away feeling sticky and damp with these wonderful words.

I especially love the invocation of Dalí, to compare sagging ghosts with melting clocks — it gives a certain authority to the images, allowing the entire poem to serve as a surrealistic painting.  Blythe’s descriptive technique is fantastic, enviable.  I love chewing on this poem, like summer taffy.

Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. Her first chapbook of poetry, Pantheon, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in August 2017. Her work has also appeared in several publications, including Yellow Chair Review, Nonbinary Review, Linden Avenue, and Strange Horizons. She serves as an associate editor for Zoetic Press  and is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Learn more at andreablythe.com



No Longer Mine by Aisha Tayo Ijadunola

Each spoonful she puts to my mouth
You steal it, you always steal
How long has it been since I’ve eaten?
I can’t remember

In a dramatic shift of tone, “No Longer Mine” by Aisha Tayo Ijadunola is a powerful short piece that leaves the reader feeling anemic, gutted, like the child held captive by a rapacious spirit.

For this issue of Eye to the Telescope I was careful to draw distinctions between ghosts and other myths and beasties, such as corporeal undead (zombies) and, say, demons.  But “possession” stories are part and parcel with ghost cannon — this idea that spirits envy us our flesh, and seek to take it from us, subduing or ousting our own souls in the process.

Abiku is a Yorubas (West African) word meaning “that which possesses death” or  “predestined to death”, referring to a type of spirit that attacks children; its victims are often the successive offspring of one mother.  Perhaps the Abiku is something alien, a demon that develops a taste for a particular bloodline; or perhaps it is the ghost of a child who won’t let go, returning to its natural mother over and over.   In either case, that mother-child bond, (“She was crying for me/She knows I’m close) is at the heart of this poem, and the heart of its horror.

I found the repetition of the final lines particularly moving: the “Aren’t you full/Aren’t you done” refrain strikes like a hollow drum, and sucked-out bone: an echo of longing, hunger, and loss.

Aisha Tayo Ijadunola is a London-based fantasy writer and digital artist. Her works often feature elements of Nigerian as well as other African myths and legends.



The Doppelgänger and the Ghost

by Lev Mirov

I am not what remains of her after the fire, or some phoenix—
I am what the house was hiding, locked away,
set free into the ruin after the conflagration
the unloved brother that starved, forgotten.

There is a notable similarity in theme between “No Longer Mine” and Lev Mirov’s “The Doppelgänger and the Ghost”.  Both deal with the struggle of spirits for ownership of flesh.  But while “No Longer Mine” gives a human voice to a ghostly myth, “The Doppelgänger…” does double duty as a metaphor and memoir.

In this poem, the narrator is the natural, rightful owner of his own body — a survivor of a battle with a pretty changeling who’d ensorcelled his parents into believing they’d birthed a girl.  The real tragedy, though, is that after defeating the usurper, the narrator has no victorious homecoming; his family grieves for their lost “girl”, the illusion.  Their disappointment drives him to examine “self”, again and again, searching his body and mind as if he must now constantly justify living in this skin.

While “The Doppelgänger and the Ghost” is a compelling story in its own right (a mash-up of the “fairy changeling” and “evil double” motifs, with a cool gender subversion), and beautifully written, it’s also a powerful metaphor for the psychological- and body-trauma often faced by people on the LGBT spectrum.

Though its length might have made it a hard-fit because of budget constraints (see my comments on “Tulpa” here), I found “Doppelgänger” too big – that is, too important –  to pass up.  I’m honored to debut  it in Eye to the Telescope.

Lev Mirov is a queer disabled mixed race Filipino-American medievalist who lives with his wife, fellow writer India Valentín, and their two cats in rural Maryland, where he feeds the ghosts of Antietam when it rains. His Rhysling-nominated poetry has been featured in Strange Horizons, Liminality Magazine, Pedestal Magazine, and other fine magazines and anthologies. His fiction appears in anthologies including Myriad Lands and the forthcoming Sunvault Anthology. To read his magical worlds and poems, find him at levmirov.wordpress.com or by following him on Twitter @thelionmachine.

Part 3 in a Series:

In my previous posts, I featured several poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th.

Today we continue the series with four very different genre poems that embody a spectrum of ghostly possibilities.


Not a Destination by F.J. Bergmann

In front of the hospital,
a somber chauffeur opened
the door of a limousine,
bowing, and he thought at first
that he would ride in style
all the way to the end…

In the last installment, we looked at how the ghost poems in Eye to the Telescope#22 transition from the abstract and epic to the intimate. F.J. Bergmann’s brief “Not a Destination” deftly moves us through a personal death towards what we might think of as the ultimate destination… only to find that the journey has just begun.

The blinking hospital lights and beeps of “Not a Destination” are a perfect fit with the poems just before and after: “Admittance” recalls a father’s resurrection in a hospital setting, while the you in Daniel Jones’ “Fevered Ream” slips from this mortal coil in room 607 of St Vincent’s.  To me, this trio of poems suggest a crossroads of possibilities: three slightly different routes for the departing soul.

The path of Bergmann’s “Not a Destination” takes a nicely dark turn; the deceased barely has a chance to settle into new accommodations before finding himself shuffled off again, sugar-plumb fantasies of  the afterlife dispersing with an ominous plume of smoke.  Like all the best ghost stories, this poem leaves it to the reader to fill in the gaps; it is our imagination that takes off from the station, towards a dark unknown.

F.J. Bergmann dreams of a future in which bios will need to be neither provided nor updated due to the perfection of mind-melding via hyperspatial dimensions. See fibitz.com for more ideation. She is the editor of Star*Line and the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.


Planetary Nebula NGC 2818

Fevered Ream by Daniel R. Jones

you slip from your die-cast sarcophagus
comatose to ghost, soul tethered to body like a
dangling tooth a child is not willing to yank


“Fevered Ream” was one of those poems that rises up out of the slush and just stops time for a minute — what did I just read?  I love the breathlessness of this one, the rambling fever dream string of images, similes; a literary tossing and turning that suddenly lets go with an explosive stanza of light and motion and a curious mixture of religious and scientific references (“Elysian nebula”, “between the star of Bethlehem and another”, “…blip on the Hubble”, “…a far cry from Mount Moriah”).

“Fevered Ream” raises more questions than it answers ( where does the arc of the soul lead, and what happens when it lands?) ; however I find the pace and tone and vivid organic language offer a promising counterpoint to the dark machinery of the previous poem.

What really sealed it for me, though, was the final line.  Gorgeous sci-fi poetry, that is.  Still gives me shivers.

Daniel Jones is a an MFA candidate at Lindenwood University, and a writer from Indianapolis, IN. Previously, he’s had work published in Aphelion, the South Bend Tribune, In the Bend, Spill Words Press, Time of Singing, and he won an award for best poem in the 2013 edition of Bethel College’s Crossings. He is currently serving as an editorial assistant for Issue 7 of The Lindenwood Review.


Now with nanobots!

Now with nanobots! https://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/3137493718


Hex Machina by Joe Nazare

The bitbots had been designed to reconstruct damaged cells,
But malfunctioned or mutated, escaped from the human
To overwhelm the landscape with a profusion of fabrication.

Speaking of science fiction: enter “Hex Machina” by Joe Nazare.  I just couldn’t say no to this one: ectoplasm, nanotech, an Armageddon of abundance… this was one of the most imaginative and clever poems in the bunch.

Truly, “Hex Machina” is so exemplary for this issue — a speculative poem that posits new and unexpected visions of the afterlife — there isn’t much more to say; except that “indiscriminate widgecraft” is my new favorite phrase ever.

Joe Nazare earned in a PhD in American Literature from New York University. His fiction, poetry, and nonfiction can be found in such places as Dark Discoveries, Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix, Pseudopod, Star*Line, Grievous Angel, Death in Common, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, and Butcher Knives & Body Counts. He is also the author of the collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season, and is currently hard at work readying Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: Ultimate Annotated Edition for ebook release on Amazon this autumn.

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strawberry_jam_on_a_dish.JPG

Ma’s Late Knight Jam Session

by Oliver Smith

The long spines of his gooseberries
Were particularly impressive:
They grew sharper than lances, impaling
Dim-minded knights who had disembarked
From the number ten bus in search of Mount Badon.

Another one of my early favorites, “Ma’s Late Knight Jam Session” takes the chaos of “Hex Machina” and raises it to a level of delightful absurdity.  I LOL’d when I read this one, enamored with lines like “ground strawberries swelled red/ As the thrashed buttocks of masochistic elves” and “Now at breakfast time an eyeball stares/Accusingly from the bottom of the jar. It is red-rimmed and horribly medieval.”

I enjoyed Smith’s lofty language and descriptive prowess throughout, as well as the opportunity to refresh my understanding of British history.

I’m also a sucker for food in poetry.  He had me at “summer fruit” – though the combination of ghosts, food, and humor is deliciously and brilliantly macabre.

Oliver Smith is a visual artist and writer from Cheltenham, UK. He was born in 1966 and recently returned to university 25 years after graduating in Fine Art to study Creative Writing as a post-graduate research student. His poetry regularly appears in Spectral Realms and his short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Inkermen Press, Ex Occidente Press, Dark Hall Press, and History and Mystery LLC. Many of his previously anthologised stories and twenty poems are now collected in Basilisk Soup and Other Fantasies.  You can find out more about Oliver here.

In my last blog post, I featured several poems from the beginning of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th.

Today we continue the series with four poems that explore ghost tropes in skillful and novel ways, ranging from the abstract to the personal.



Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits

by Robin Husen

The grandfather clock in the hallway
Chips away at time.
The heart of this old house
The stairs are the spine
And every step touches a nerve

As you might imagine, the haunted house was one of the most popular themes for Eye to the Telescope #22  submissions (second only to lost love poems).  In “Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits” we find ourselves within the archetypal haunted house — no context, as if in a dream, no entrance or exit, just an Escher-like unfolding of housely features; the ticking clock, the creaking stairs.

In dream theory, the house represents the dreamer; Husen’s “Upstairs…Downstairs” suggests an eerie sympathy between the “you” that wanders room to room and the house’s bookends and edges, it’s beating heart.

I was particularly enamored with the second-to-last stanza, in which “everything turns on the/corner step” and the poem, too, takes a turn, a shift in perspective, speculating ominous possibilities.  It reads like a spiral, inviting you in, and down, again and again…

Robin Husen is a writer from Nottingham, England. He is an Open University graduate, and has an MA in Literary Linguistics from the University of Nottingham, where he wrote his dissertation on the use of negation in creating a sense of unease. “Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits” is his first published poem. His short fiction has appeared on Daily Science Fiction and is forthcoming on Far Fetched Fables.  When he isn’t writing, you can usually find him walking the dog. You can also find him on twitter @reliant_robin’


A Night at Gran’ma Ginny’s

by Dawn Cunningham

clear rectangles make a stairstep on the front door;
they stare into the changing
moon; the cymbals of oncoming clouds
talk     rock music; a light show speaks

Like “Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits”, “A Night at Gran’ma Ginny’s” struck me as a delightfully different take on the haunted house trope.  In this poem, too, we view the house as if through a dreamer’s eyes; or, rather, one stuck in that moment between dreams and waking, when everything has a quality of unreality, and we’re not sure we can trust what we perceive.

Cunningham uses vivid and sensory language and creative use of space to evoke a fun-house of impressions that make this poem so much more than an accounting of something creepy that happened in the middle of the night.  Though what is left unsaid–the reason the narrator is asleep in Gran’ma’s chair, perhaps, with a coat for a blanket–keeps us grounded in real life, in a real place, which makes the encounter all the more uncanny.

I especially love the soft ending of this poem: the sigh of a closing refrigerator door, the quiet snuffing out of a light so as to not disturb those sleeping nearby (and those, perhaps, who have had enough) .

The career of writing stories and poems began with Dawn Cunningham’s Gran’ma Ginny, where the Native American tradition was passed down. Through the storytelling, Ms. Cunningham began to write, first fiction, then poetry, and now nonfiction as well. She earned a BGS and MA through Indiana University. Her recent publications are in Confluence, Flare: The Flagler Review, Misfit Magazine, Shuf Poetry, and the upcoming Dandelions first appearance.


Be My Geist: A Villanelle

by Suzan Pickford

No white glove test for clear
(until there is and “they’re here”)
haunted by remnants hidden deep in your closet.
What a “geist-ing” game communicating
when small blonde children sneak tv time
it’s no wonder you lost it, perplexed by the vortex.

As far as haunted houses go, the cemetery-straddling, portal-pulsing suburban two-story in”Poltergeist” (1982) takes the horror cake.  I grew up with this movie, I identified painfully with the straight-haired Carol Ann (gods rest her soul), and what remake, I can’t hear you, lalalala.

One of the perks of being an editor is that you get to pick what you like; so when Suzan Pickford answered my not-really-joking call for Poltergeist-themed poems with this tongue-in-cheek darling, I couldn’t resist.  While I suspect that the term “villanelle” is loosely applied, I love how she roped the most iconic bits from the film into the form.  Plus I love the internal rhyme and turn-of-phrase in “perplexed by the vortex”.  I just want to hug this poem like a scary clown doll.

Suzan Pickford: master of insomnia and java enthusiast. Born in Virginia to two New Yorkers, Suzan has been writing since early primary school when she began running out of accessible reading material and began crafting her own. Most recently featured in the Summer edition of The Cicada’s Cry—a micro-zine of Haiku Poetry, Suzan Pickford brings levity to themes not usually considered comedic in the fields of poetry, fiction, and screenwriting.


Admittance by Cathleen Allyn Conway

Dad calls me and says to come pick him up from the hospital.
“You know they’re trying to kill me in here.”
“But you’re dead,” I say.
“I’m better now,” he replies.
“It’s happened before.”

With “Admittance” by Cathleen Allyn Conway, we move from more abstract ghost poems into the realm of the intimate; personal tales of lost lives and lost loves.

“Admittance” begins with a phone call from beyond the grave, which places it squarely in the speculative genre.  However, the details are so relatable (“the nurse/straddled his Buddha belly like a lover”, “the flag was folded and the rifle-cracks in the cold/shocked choking sobs from Mom”), and the voice of the narrator is so insistently normal, this poem strikes me as one of the most realistic of the bunch.

The father’s  impossible voice on the line is almost secondary to the voice of loss expressed within, subtle but exquisite.  The universality of that grief is what struck me most about this poem.  “Admittance” deftly reminds of that we cannot examine ghosts without examining the empty places left among the living.

Cathleen Allyn Conway is finishing her PhD in creative writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the co-editor of Plath Profiles, the only academic journal dedicated to the work of Sylvia Plath, and the founder and editor of women’s protest poetry magazine Thank You For Swallowing. Her collection Static Cling is available from Dancing Girl Press. Originally from Chicago, she lives in south London with her partner and son.